Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Does Eklund need Habs fans this badly?

I understand that the summer is a difficult time to blog. I do. And I understand that there must be demands on Eklund to keep up the traffic to his site. But, for a site I used to like and even defend relentlessly, I feel a little bit cheated lately.

The latest post may have been the straw that broke the donkey's back. Eklund's blog 30/07/07:

The Ryder signing is a shocking one to me but it sends a clear message that I did ponder. It was not until this morning that I received confirmation on that message. LeCavalier and the Habs are on a collision course that could start as early as this year's trade deadline

I mean, where does he come up with this stuff?

First of all, why is the Ryder signing shocking? Should I be shocked that Ryder signed a one year contract (again) for a raise over his last salary? I wasn't shocked, it's actually something along the lines of what I expected, given the Higgins and Komisarek and Plekanec contracts. A good job by Bob Gainey.

Second, how does signing a player that you would have had to sign to a one-year contract the very next day on arbitrator's terms so clearly send a message (other than duh?!?)? Clearly it doesn't. It sends one message. Ryder will play for the Habs this year at an affordable rate.

But, all that aside, I was willing to forgive his exuberance. That was until the kicker:

Enter Ryder, who should have been a 3 or 4 year deal at around 3.5. The Habs yesterday avoided arbitration, but did make Ryder a one year player and gave themselves a chance to make Vinny a "lifer" at some point in the next 2 years...

Ryder should have been a 3-4 year deal? Why? Players and GMs negotiate contracts based on salary, terms and length. It's all part of the bargaining. How can one say that a player should be on a 3-4 year contract? I happen to think the one-year option is quite a good one, as it gives both player and team a chance to re-evaluate. In my opinion, Bob Gainey was more likely to have promised a longer-term deal if Mike produces this year again, than what Eklund suggests.

Besides, how could signing Ryder to 3-4 years at 3.5 million prevent us from signing Lecavalier? Vincent is a centre, and may actually need a winger one day. If Koivu was signed for one year, then it might be a different story, but this Ryder signing does not send any hidden messages.

So why suggest it does? Perhaps to whip up some hysteria among a large group of people who actually care about hockey in the summer (Habs fans). Ever since I heard the suggestion made, I've noticed that Eklund does include Habs rumours on most days. He needs our traffic more than we need his rumours.

I'll still read the site, of course, because I'm hooked. But, I just wanted to voice my cynicism. I wonder how everyone else feels about his site nowadays.

Just a quick note, while I'm on the topic of Eklund. I recently stumbled onto a parody site written by Peklund. It's a funny read, but the funniest thing these day is how closely it resembles an Eklund blog. Obviously that's the point, but I still find it funny. Mr. Peklund also quotes Habs and Leafs rumours daily as a jibe against Eklund's ridiculous tangential speculations like the one I commented on today. Give it a read. It's good fun.

Monday, July 30, 2007

One-Year Ryder

Every year Michael Ryder gets a one-year contract ahead of going to arbitration. Every year (well this year and last anyway, and maybe next year too).

This particular contract looks great for both parties. Ryder gets a decent raise for continuing to be Michael Ryder (30 G + 20 some odd A), and the Canadiens get a 30-goal scorer for under 3 million.

I'm sure the one-year deal has been put in place as incentive for Ryder to perform (i.e., continue to score) for the 4 million dollar contract next time. To be honest, if he scores 30+ goals again, I don't think there will be much argument from most people. 3 seasons in a row wouldmake him a bona fide 30-goal man. It would be nice if he could get a couple more than the 30, maybe even 35-40 this time around. With the incentihttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifve of a bigger contract, there'sno better time for him to do that.

All in all, I am very pleased. Also Brisebois didn't jump on the alleged contract from the Habs, making Sunday July 29th a whole lot rosier for Habs fans than Saturday July 28th.

I'm keeping an eye on rumour sites for some more Hab news, but am more sceptical than Eklund is about it. I'd be surprised if they signed Markov (Dan) or made a big trade at this point. Had Ryder not signed, I'd be on the lookout for certain.

Looking forward to a few more slow weeks until the season...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Brisebois offer a mistake

In an off-season that is producing a lot of steps in the wrong direction for the league (Kevin Lowe!) as well as the Habs (Smolinski, Kostopoulos), this move fits right into the senselessness.

What on earth could Bob Gainey be thinking offering a contract to Brisebois? A player who was the original untradeable burden we experienced in Montreal. With his swagger and arrogance, he eventually forgot what little he knew about playing hockey and turned full time into a giveaway machine. Never one to shy away from a hit, oh I meant never one to not shy away from a hit, he could make Sheldon Souray look like a Norris trophy winner. So what is it about him then?

Do we need an extra defenseman? Not as far as I can see: Markov, Komisarek, Hamrlik, Streit, Bouillon, Dandenault, Gorges, Valentenko, O'Byrne, ...

Does it increase competition for a position? Well not for the top four it doesn't, as Brisebois never measured up to that calibre. Maybe for the 6th spot. I think there would have been enough competition for that place anyway. Besides what kind of message is: To make the team you just have to be a bit better than an aging Patrice Brisebois?

Do we need a French speaking star? Yes. But he's no star. An extra French voice for post-game interviews? I hope it's not this.

Are we moving Streit to forward permanently? I hope not, as our forward group is stronger than the defense. Not only will Streit eventually lose out, but a lesser player will take his place at the back.

Is it a move for veteran presence? Again? Isn't that the only conceivable explanation as to why we got Smolinski?

Maybe there are no other options on the free agent market. A quick look shos me that there are many UFA options. Berard or Markov would be alright, I suppose. At least they have no horrible painful history here. Then, there are plenty of one-year 6th D options out there.

I must say I had nothing against Brisebois as a Hab in the early days, but once he started taking things for granted and coasting and throwing his arms up after every goal, I soured. I soured hard, and it stills smarts, so I'm not ready for the goodbye tour, if that's quite alright.

In my opinion, this offer defies all logic. Let's hope the self-centered, arrogant, golf-course pissing, Ferrari-driving, thinks he deserves everything based on his Cup ring, "defenseman" also defies all logic and turns down the offer.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Emery, Miller, Toskala, Fernandez and Huet

Slow time for Habs news, but there was some divisional rival news which is always important for us.

Emery signed with the Senators yesterday and avoided arbitration. This probably isn't a surprise, but it can't really be viewed as good news for the Habs, that's for sure. He is now a Stanley Cup finalist, he wrestled a job from a defending Stanley Cup champion goalie and managed to post the 7th best save % in the league last year. He's also pretty good against the Habs.

Apart from that, it does bring up one question: Is the Northeast Division now the best division for goalies in the NHL?

Every starter had a save % over .900 – all in the top 20 of the league last year. We have the perennial Jennings winner, a Stanley Cup finalist, two all-stars and Toskala (who isn't so shabby either).

Only the Northwest has better overall calibre based on reputation with Kiprusoff, Luongo, Backstrom, Roloson and Budaj.

If I had to choose, I'd say Northwest their group is better, but then again, so are their defenses (bar Edmonton).

Thankfully for the Habs, we don't even play those teams this year. Unfortunately, there will be no easy mark in our 32 inter-division games. It would be nice if there were, as our scorers aren't exactly prolific.

Maybe we can look to taking a lot of shots as the way to go, since the defenses of our divisional rivals fall well below the level of league's best. Or, maybe we can hope that the Emery contract forces a trade, so we get a few Gerber "flu" games throughout the year.

What I wouldn't give for 8 games against a Biron, Norrena or LA.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Trading Kovalev Fallacy

In what apeears to be a flood of illogical trade scenarios, most online Habs fans are dealing Kovalev for anyone and everyone in the league.

These scenarios are mostly wild-eyed, unbalanced, ill-considered suggestions. In addition, they all ignore the first rule of trading:

Don't sell low (aka, don't trade from weakness).

Has Kovalev's value ever been lower? No.

Is there a rush to trade him? No.

If he is to be traded, we should wait until a) he goes on a point streak; or, b) a top team loses their top-line winger to injury. Both would enhance Kovalev's value.

Personally, I am still a fan of his. I believe his skills and play bring way more than points. I believe he benefits the team more than 10 Steve Begins. I believe without him, our team is much weaker, our PP goes from first to 20th or worse. He is the only player who can consistently beat an opponent one-on-one. The only player with top-level stick-handling skills. And, most of all, he cause confusion on the ice by mixing things up.

All you armchair GMs would be sorry if we traded him for a up-the-ice down-the-ice 20-goal winger, I assure you.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Kovalev Koivu Selanne

Wow, that would have been a great first line anytime from 1996-2004. Could it be a great line in 2007? I'd love to find out.

I just signed on to a petition to bring Selanne to Montreal. I did it mainly for fun, obviously. No one cares about an online survey. No one signing or trading NHLers anyway. Actually, it was a bit of a change of heart for me. I was pretty pleased to go with the young guys, and already thought they were getting a bit crowded out on the current roster. But, I thought Selanne was worth making an exception. There are 5 good reasons in my mind:

1) He is a goal scorer. Beyond Michael Ryder, and possibly Latendresse, no one gets that tag on our team. We have a lot of playmakers, all-rounders, defensive-minded guys and of course Kovalev (who I think of as a puck controller, space maker, and mix of shooter/passer). Selanne can pass, but he's always scored goals.

2) He won a cup. Not singlehandedly, but he played a big part. His experience is recent and would bring a positive vibe to any dressing room.

3) He and Koivu together dominate. Koivu is good with a lot of players, but with Selanne he wins championship scoring titles. He and Selanne are friends and know how to play together. A nice combination.

4) He's a star. He has a nickname. He could take the pressure off some of the young guys allowing them to learn and progress in his shadow.

5) He's a short-term contract. Already thinking of retiring. He could sign for one or two years and then make way for the players coming through. They'd be two years further along and will have benefited from the tutelage of a hall of fame winger.

As a bonus, I might be able to make my Recchi shirt into a Selanne shirt without changing the number. Sorry Komi, I'm not a big fan of stay-at-home defensemen for the shirts I wear.

Here the first line then (in my dreams):

Kovalev lost a little steam last year, but I believe he will be back as good as ever. And you won't be able to tell by checking the stats at the end of the year, either. You'll have to watch the game, properly, to know for sure. He will dominate 8-10 games and be the most noticeable player in another 15, I think. Points? Who knows. Goals he creates by scoring, assisting or making space for others: numerous.

Koivu had his best ever statistical season. He deserved it. He's been a 75-80 point guy all along, I think. With Selanne he's an 85-90 point man. But again, his effect goes well beyond points to controlling the tempo and the puck for the team. He'll be great this year – again.

Selanne flies down the wing, hair flowing to chants of Tee-Tee-Tee. Lemaire (I mean Koivu) feeds him the puck and it's magic. As long as Teemu is happy to shoot and let the other two do the carrying, then it'll be gold.

Let's see if Bob Gainey agrees with me. At this point, I hope so.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why I won't shed a tear for the Nashville Predators...

I just read Mr. Eklund's opinion about Nashville. It's a very nice account and bid for support, but I feel sometimes I feel there is a time to let go. If the fans don't show up this year, then I blieve it is probably time.

I'm not cold, just hardened. In Quebec, we lost the Nordiques and then the Expos. Bad things happen to good franchises, so to speak. Of all the nonsense of trying to force hockey on people in states that are closer to the tropics than the snow, Nashville isn't the worst (that would be Hartford to Carolina in my opinion, less passion for hockey and yes, less fans at the games), but Nashville is the second yougest NHL citizen, has been given a ten-year chance and still haven't been able to take to the game as hoped (a la Colorado this time around). I think they should be relocated to a Canadian city to be honest, now that Canada seems to be able to compete.

For perspective, Nashville is the 35th city ever to be associated with the NHL. City, not franchise – many cities have had 2 at one time (New York, Montreal), or franchises at different points in time (Pittsburgh, Ottawa). (Source: Rauzulu's Street)

1. Montreal
1. Ottawa
1. Quebec
1. Toronto

5. Boston

6. Hamilton

7. Pittsburgh
7. New York
7. Chicago
7. Detroit

11. Philadelphia

12. St. Louis

13. Minneapolis St. Paul (Minnesota)
13. LA
13. Oakland/San Francisco (California)

16. Buffalo
16. Vancouver

18. Atlanta

19. Kansas City
19. Washington

21. Cleveland
21. Denver (Colorado)

23. Hartford
23. Edmonton
23. Winnipeg

26. Calgary

27. Newark (New Jersey)

28. San Jose

29. Tampa

30. Anaheim
30. Miami (Florida)
30. Dallas

33. Phoenix

34. Raleigh-Durham (Carolina)

35. Nashville

36. Columbus

Looking at it slightly differently, you can see their historical claim is weak:

Northeast Div

Montreal (1917-)
Toronto (1917-)
Ottawa (1917-32, 1933-35, 1992-)
Boston (1924-)
Buffalo (1971-)

Atlantic Div

New York (1926)
Pittsburgh (1926-32, 1967-)
Philadelphia (1932, 1967-)
New York 2 (1972)
New Jersey (1982)

Southeast Div
Atlanta (1972-1980,1999-)
Washington (1974-)
Tampa (1992-)
Florida (1993-)
Carolina (1997-)

Central Div

Detroit (1926-)
Chicago (1926-)
St. Louis (1935, 1967-)
Nashville (1999-)
Columbus (2000-)


Minnesota (1967-1993, 2000-)
Vancouver (1971-)
Colorado (1976-1982, 1996-)
Edmonton (1979-)
Calgary (1982-)

Pacific Div

Los Angeles (1967-)
San Jose (1991-)
Anaheim (1993-)
Dallas (1993-)
Phoenix (1996-)

A city like Hamilton, Quebec or Winnipeg, who have made the NHL work in the past and whose teams all left in different circumstances, deserve a chance. Even Kansas City who had a team before may deserve a second chance. If the current owner of Nashville wants out and no one person is leading a bid, it probaably doesn't look like a good business proposition. Rescue bids like the current one can work (Edmonton), but they can also go very wrong (Expos). I like Tennessee and would probably like Nashville, but if they don't turn out to the games this year, then theu should take their medicine.

Just my thoughts.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A better season ahead?

I must say, I have to agree with my fellow blogger at <> eyes on the prize <>, when he thinks there are many reasons to believe the Canadiens will be better next year.

As you will have seen if you read his post, the analysis says the Habs will be improved. I agree. Bringing up young players, who will improve over their first few years is a good way to do this.

Though tempting, I will not equate improvement to playoffs. It would be possible to improve and still miss. It will take patience to improve in this way, but the results are likely to be lasting.

Eyes on the prize is a great blog. Read it if you like the Habs, you'll probably enjoy the analysis too.

Friday, July 06, 2007


Remember the days when making the playoffs meant beating Hartford or Quebec? Those were the days. We could build for the playoffs, concentrate on establishing chemistry and playing Boston. Playoff streaks were long, round the whole league. We had one, Boston, even St. Louis who continued their's well into the expension age.

Well things have changed a lot. More teams, restrictions on budget, Europeans. The playoffs are becoming a little bit difficult to make. We do all remember missing the last time...

In some ways, though, making the playoffs has not become that much harder. Some teams still stagnate for years (a la Quebec) and those in the hunt need merely hold their concentration through January and February to get it done. Beat all the bottom feeders and you stand a great chance come April. Lose a few to Washington, Florida and the crew and you put yourselves in a precarious situation.

So, now that the free agent frenzy is over (if not all the signings). How do the Habs chances of making the playoffs look. Consider the teams in the East that got better and worse, and by how much.

1) Improved
New York Rangers – Replaced Nylander with Gomez in what could go either way depending on the Jagr chemistry, but did also add a good (and horrendously overpaid) Chris Drury. They were a playoff team, they should stay one.

Philadelphia Flyers – Swapped Forsberg for Briere (I see no great improvement). Added Timonen, but lost Pitkanen (slight improvement if any). Added Hartnell, Lupul and Upshall which should translate into some wins. Added Biron to replace Esche (slight improvement). They also added Jason Smith for another slight boost. When you add it all together it's improvement, but this is still the team that lost the East last year, whose youngsters are so overrated just for being born in Canada it boggles the mind. They should fight for a playoff spot. If they make it, I don't think they will be the fourth or fifth team from this division in, so someone will go home disappointed (NJ?)

Pittsburgh Penguins – Added without really lossing any key parts. Sydor is a great move. Sykora probably isn't, but hey. Crosby will carry them further this year than last.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Good signing in Blake. Well, at least very fiscally responsible. He should fit in well there too. Taking chances on Bell and Toskala should pay off in one way or another at the cost of no prospects from 2007. They are improved, but I thought they overachieved last year, with quite an incredible finish. With the improvement, they should be able to cruise into 7, 8, 9, 10 fight this yea, instead of giving it all for 9th.

Washington Capitals – Adding Kozlov and Nylander could look like the best forward upgrade by the end of the year, especially as nothing major was subtracted. but look where they started! Poti should only add to the confusion at the back. Improved up front, but a non-existent defense means they miss the playoffs again, I think.

2) Worse

New York Islanders – Icing a completely different team, made up entirely of cast offs. I like Ted Nolan as a coach, but even he will have trouble here. Comrie on line 1? Heaven help them. Hanging on to a playoff spot looks all but impossible this year.

Buffalo Sabres – Losing both top centres and Zubrus, and adding Thibault hurt this team. Can't believe Teppo Numminen is still in the NHL, it certainly says a lot about the competitiveness of this team's defense prospects. Should be worse, but they did win the East last year. They kept their two best forwards Vanek and Afinogenov. They will probably eke out a spot.

Ottawa Senators – As of this article, they have only lost players, not gained. That being said, I don't think last year was the end of the line for this team. That first line is the best in the league on most nights. Their defense is the envy of at least 25 teams and their goalie is pretty good. They're worse yes, but should still challenge for the East crown.

New Jersey Devils – Losing Rafalski and Gomez to replace them with Zubrus and Rachunek... ouch. If they get Souray, they could get even worse. Despite all this they still have Brodeur who wins games on his own and Elias who can be the best LW in the league when he wants to (he's already made overpaid free agents out of Gomez and Sykora, who's next? not Zubrus surely...). I think they'll finally be fighting for a spot this year after ten years of cruising. I wouldn't be surprised if they make it, but I wouldn't be shocked if they missed either.

Atlanta Thrashers – Getting whipped in the first round of the playoffs showed this team up for the pretenders that they are. No additions when they probably needed a few on top of that blow to confidence means they got worse. I don't think they have a chance at all, unless Lehtonen has a groin transplant and stops hanging out with Philly's prospects Carter and Richards at the "Could we be any more overrated?" parties through the winter months.

Obviously the other teams moved up or down as well, but I don't think their moves pushed them too far in one direction or the other. I do think Carolina will return to form and show last year was an aberration. And let's not forget Vokoun is no Luongo...

So, how does it all play out then:

New York Rangers
Tampa Bay
New Jersey
New York Islanders

I can't believe my own eyes, but someone has to miss afterall, and someone even has to come last, even if they sign lots of free agents (eh, Philly?)

So Habs fans, we're in for a fight again. I put us in (of course), but those teams that we have to beat don't look like such slouches anymore. Maybe we'll get lucky and Eric Staal will play really poorly again...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

If nothing else changes...

If, according to Gainey, this is the end of additions through free agency (barring unbelievable opportunities), then I thought it would be worth looking at the line up.

The forward lines look similar to last year with a few more young faces. I would line things up this way:

1) Higgins Koivu Ryder
2) Kostitsyn Plekanec Kovalev
3) Lapierre Smolinski Latendresse
4) Begin Chipchura Milroy

Reserves: Locke, Grabovski, Murray

I like the top line, though if there were some way to get Ryder working on line 2, it would be great to have Kovalev with Koivu, in my opinion. Kostitsyn has the most potential of all the young forwards, barring Higgins. He should be up on line 2, and he could do some damage with Plekanec. Latendresse would be on the PP, but being on the third line, as opposed to the fourth might be good for him. Milroy led the Bulldogs in the regular season, and he might translate his success to the NHL like Ryder, Plekanec and Higgins before him. I'd take the chance. I would like to see Locke there somewhere, but he could slot in if there's an injury.

The scoring might be difficult again unless Higgins improves and Kostitsyn really starts to contribute (e.g., more than 20 goals), but I do like the way there are no real laggards on the bottom 2 lines.

The defense also has a similar look, though Hamrlik is in. I would line them up this way:

1) Markov Komisarek
2) Hamrlik O'Byrne
3) Bouillon Streit

Reserves: Gorges, Dandenault

Depending on the opponents, Streit could be used up front. I see Dandenault dressing for a lot of games based on this and other strategical adjustments.

The goalies are easy, presuming Aebischer is gone:

1) Huet
2) Halak
3) Price

I like Price, but he'll have his time. He could benefit from trying to translate playoff success into consistent results over 80 games. I would prefer that he learns this on Hamilton. The advantage will be that he plays a lot, and we continue to get good value out of Huet, who should return to form.

Overall, I think the team is alright. We could still use a defenseman to come in and coach our corps. Gainey must know someone. Our defensive forward tutelage is obviously top-notch, but our defensemen could use some help. I think the team is good enough to make the playoffs, and inexperienced enough to miss. I take comfort in knowing that a team on paper is not a team on the ice – you only have to look at Buffalo 2005/6, panned by critics before the season and lauded after they'd seen them play.

I guess we'll have to be patient and reserve judgement on this group too. (I can hear it though: Plekanec passe la rondelle a Kostitsyn, le feinte, il batte Toskala, le but ouvert... et le but... [insert this year's U2 goal song])

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


There seem to be two camps of Habs fans at the moment: the staunch supporters and the doomsday merchants.

I fall roughly in the middle of the two groups and I'm feeling a bit lonely at the moment. I wonder if there are many others out there who feel neither hot under the collar, nor coolly unstirred, but lukewarm.

Two signings took place yesterday for the Canadiens: Hamrlik and Smolinski. 24 million dollars was spent for 5 years worth of service.

Hamrlik career
Smolinski career

From one point of view, the players we got were good considering the circumstances. From another, the money we spent was disappointing. In terms of this year, we have the cap space, so we might as well spend the money. So, in my books the Smolinski signing is alright. The remaining 3 years for Hamrlik won't be looking so good if it costs us some young guys down the line.

In a best case scenario, Hamrlik will play good defense, mentor a youg player and manage to play for his whole contract; and Smolinski will chip in 40 points and help some young guys learn how to play in the league. At worst, they'll be drags on the team and block our capability to sign other players. Given these two guys have been pretty consistent over 990 games each, I don't see the latter scenario as likely.

I really just can't get too excited about all this, can you tell?

Monday, July 02, 2007

52 million reasons

Who needs 52 million dollars??

It would be nice, but realistically?

Briere better never pull the "I've always wanted to play for Montreal". Not now, not in 4 years, never. Turning down nthe alleged huge offer strips him of that right.

He unwittingly did the Habs 2 huge favours, so I have no bitterness towards him. First, he didn't sign here and go back to his usual 60-70 point seasons for 7 million a year. Secondly, he placed another millstone around the necks of the Flyers – who might have otherwise presented a long-term threat had their youngsters ever become stars. They've already lost Pitkanen, who should look better than Jason Smith and Lupul this year I think.

More gratitude goes to Captain Canada (World Championship edition) – aka Captain Mostly Never Make the Second (or Any) Playoff Round – who signed elsewhere and didn't bind himself to us for many painful years to come.

Overrated is one thing. can't possibly live up to the cap space they take is another. These two can go on their merry way as far as I'm concerned.

Who will we get? If it's the dregs, let's hope the contract is small or tradeable...